Vectrex iPhone Review
The once mighty Vectrex, and its entire catalogue of software, can now be squeezed into one app on your iPhone, which hardly breaks sweat to run it. The emulator could probably run half a dozen of the vector-based systems at once, but the question has to be: is it worth the princely sum of £4.99/$6.99 to upgrade to the full version?
Well, before we get to that, let’s see what you get for free.
The basic version is actually fairly generous with content. You get a 3D 80’s bedroom to explore, with a few of the original TV ads to view, some artwork charting the development of the app, some history, and the full version of the Vectrex’s original built-in game, Mine Storm, with online leaderboards and achievements. There are also some homebrew games included that worked for me without having to pay, although I suspect this was a bug.
The emulation itself is a little odd. First of all there is quite a bit of flicker, which was not present on the original Vectrex. I know this because I have literally held the app up alongside my own Vectrex machine. It probably has something to do with the way the extremely thin lines are rendered on the iPhone’s tiny screen, as this issue is far less apparent on the iPad, although it is still undeniably there.
There are also a few issues with things missing in certain games, such as bullets in Web Wars, and the inexplicable missing speech from Spike. However, the big problem I have with the emulation is that it is simply too fast, and probably runs 30-40% quicker than the Vectrex machine, which always ran games pretty well. This may sound like a good thing, but in reality it makes some of the games impossible to play, especially if you are playing with the touchscreen.
Games like Cosmic Chasm and Armor Attack, already pretty tough, are rendered nearly unplayable by the combination of the touchscreen controls and over-the-top running speed. Armor Attack really is ruined for me.
However, the developer have done what they can with the touchscreen, with controls that are wisely customisable, and they would have the potential to be pretty good if the speed was dialled back. You can also use the iPhone version as a controller for the iPad, and play local multiplayer.
There is also the option of using the excellent iCade physical control option if you have the unit.
So we now come to the big question of whether the upgrade is worth it. Well, you do get nearly every commercially released Vectrex game, except the lightpen and 3D imager games and a few other exceptions like Polar Rescue and Mine Storm II, for your money, and each of them has its own leaderboard and achievements, although you are going to have to boot up Game Center separately to see achievements you have yet to find, as there is no way of viewing them in the app. Each game also comes with full instructions and a 3D box that you can rotate.
A big disappointment is that you get no extra videos or pictures for your money. This is odd as there seems to be plenty of shelf space for them. I did think that you may have got them for playing more games and getting highscores, but no luck so far.
Despite these reservations, I would still recommend the full upgrade to anyone with anything more than a passing interest in Vectrex, and I would even go so far as to recommend it to those who actually own Vectrex machines, as the app keeps track of highscores, both locally and online with iCloud syncing- with the Vectrex console you lose your scores whenever you turn the machine off.
It does run too fast, and there should be a bit more non-game content for the price, and I think there should be the option of purchasing games individually instead of the whole shebang(I can only imagine how many lost sales the developer has missed because of punters not wanting all the games), but still, this is obviously a labour of love.
The fantastic ability to have all these games in your pocket, with online leaderboards, is something that just can’t be overstated for retro fans. Yes, there are a few issues but overall, this is one IAP you won’t regret.
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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.